Thursday, January 31

Mosquito nurseries

The folks who used to live where I am now sure left a mess. For some reason, they carved holes in an awful lot of the granite. Some of the holes have, thankfully, filled with dirt and are no longer a problem, but the majority of them can still collect a considerable amount of rainwater. When the weather warms up, they become breeding holes for mosquitoes.

These people must have made mosquitoes a regular part of their diet, considering the abundance of nurseries they created. They probably ate the larvae rather than the biting adults, kind of like really teensy prawns.

If they weren’t mosquito eaters, maybe the holes were used to wash socks, but they’re only big enough for one sock at a time, and from what I’ve heard the previous tenants never wore socks anyway. You could float tiny model canoes, testing them like we do model aircraft in a wind tunnel, before going to the expense of making a full-size canoe. Maybe they were mirrors, attracting birds who would attack their reflections and drown, ready to be plucked, cooked and eaten.

Or maybe they’re not human-caused at all; they could be the footprints of the extinct cone-footed Heavisaurus pogostickus. Yeah, that makes the most sense.

Wednesday, January 30

Truth in Labeling, Part 2

This is a follow-up to my previous post regarding truth in labeling. I had picked Nabisco’s Wheat Thins simply because it was the only snack food I had on hand. Since it’s a minimum two-hour round trip to the nearest grocery, I wasn’t going to go out just to buy a bag of potato chips (the real villain in this category), nor was I going to wait until the next absolutely necessary town trip (like to get beer). And besides if I had waited I probably would have forgotten the whole idea. Slowly rotting mind, you know.

This Nabisco product comes out surprisingly well in my scientific analysis. I started with a new package and sorted the crackers into two piles: Whole and Broken. They’re packaged by weight, so I weighed the whole ones, then the broken ones. If a cracker had only a tiny corner missing, it went in the broken pile. Using those criteria, the whole-versus-broken ratio was 23:4. If I included the ones that were only nominally broken in the whole-cracker pile, which is only fair, the ratio increased to an astounding 19:1! For every nineteen crackers in the package, only one cracker’s-worth is broken to any significant extent.

Statistics like that are hard to beat. If Nabisco took the care necessary to pack and ship only unbroken crackers, the cost would surely be much higher. Besides, the buyer simply needs to do what we do in our house; we have the package opened, sorted, and re-packed by our man-servant. He gets to keep the broken ones.

Tuesday, January 29

Clarence survives birthday extravaganza

For nearly a week I haven’t seen Clarence. Of course the worldwide celebration of my birthday kind of upset a lot of the wildlife around here what with all the fireworks and sonic-boom flybys of the Tom-friendly nations’ military forces on display. But it’s been quiet for a few days and I figured I’d see the little guy soon. Sure enough, as Karla took out the salad bowls from the cupboard, one of them contained—hooray!—Clarence!

He was still a bit shaken by the past week’s festivities and struggled to escape my grasp. I managed to put him in the kitchen window where he normally shows up, but forgot that since we last saw him we had placed a large ceramic frog, one of the many Clarence-related birthday gifts I had received, in the window in Clarence’s honor. Omigosh! He would have nothing to do with that monster! Imagine yourself standing next to a human figure that’s 40 feet tall; you can see what he was thinking. So I chased him down, grabbed him again and put him right on top of the new giant frog. He calmed down immediately, perhaps thinking that he now dominated this enormous beast.

A few nights ago it was warm outside and I had managed to capture several moths that were attracted to the porch light. I kept them in a large jar with the lid off so they could escape if necessary, and at least not suffocate. There were two moths left, one dead. I tossed them toward Clarence and he totally forgot about being manhandled by a great big human only seconds before and glommed onto a moth with a ferocity that sent chills up my spine.

Tonight I’m going to sleep with a gun under my pillow, if I can find one. Okay, a knife. Well, a pair of scissors. And I'm going to re-think this whole Clarence relationship.

If I can sleep, that is.

From the Funny Pages…Part 4

Whenever I read in a newspaper that a town is going to get a new California Highway Patrol station, the first thing that pops to mind is, “How many square feet?” That’s what I love about our local twice-weekly paper—they put it right there in the headline! Not only that, in the article they state that the new station will have “20,000 of above ground fuel storage.” They didn’t mention 20,000 of what, but I’m not going to quibble.

How about construction details? Well, hear this: The 9,500-square-foot upper level will include, among other things, an ammunition storage room. Cool. Problem is, the upper level sits atop the lower level which, according to the article, is only 3,900 square feet. Hope it doesn’t sag at the corners, what with the weight of all those bullets upstairs. The building will be constructed in a way that follows “all applicable state and county codes and regulations, including the State Fire Marshal.” Whew! Had me worried. The article states that the lower level will have an equipment issue room and a raincoat room.

Read the article for yourself, but first know that it’ll cost you $2.95.

Monday, January 28

Get the joke?

So far, only one person has gotten the joke. My post of January 23, “What were they smoking?” implies the question, What is the significance of the logo of the farmer and his donkey? Of course the person who got it is a genius (my daughter). Anybody else? I’m anxiously waiting. By the way, coffee isn't really significant in the farmer’s occupation, I just plagiarized and modified the logo of Juan Valdez, the representative for Columbian Coffee for what—30 years? So the question is why would my logo of a farmer stroking his donkey with bath tissue better represent the product than a gray-haired lady clad in ermine with a crown on her noggin? Click on the Comments link and give me your best.

Stooping even lower…

If impassioned stories about “bath tissue” and “meadow muffins” weren’t enough, here’s more to prove that this blogger has yet to raise himself from the gutter. Actually, here in the boonies we don’t have real gutters. At least not the kind that connect to a sewer system.

The reaction of the reporter shows pretty conclusively that he never grew up around horses, looking upward with fascination under their tails, waiting for that magic moment when muffins were created.

Saturday, January 26

To all you horses-in-the-wilderness lovers/haters

We are being challenged for having horses in the wilderness. Not good. Horses built the wilderness long before it was even called wilderness. North America is the source of horses, for criminy sakes. And they inhabited the wilderness long before two-leggers (humans) were even invented. Check out this link, and if you can, please attend the opening at 7PM on Friday, February 1, 2008.

Mimi Plumb is a terrific photographer. She has taken more pictures of our horses than any living human (beside Hilary Hurley). And they’re terrific pictures, worthy of your purchasing for your soon to be extremely valuable private collection.

Address: 47 E. William St, San Jose California.

Buddha says…

Being an unabashed Libertarian, I told a good friend that I supported Ron Paul for the Republican nomination. She, being an unabashed liberal Buddhist, responded jokingly that Buddha says, “Never vote for a man with with two first names.” I reminded her that her candidate also had two first names. Think Clint[on] Eastwood. On reflection, her candidate isn’t technically a “man.” Hm-m-m. I think she’s got me there.

Birthday wishes

Thanks so much for the warm e-wishes from all of you. The message traffic was so intense it overheated the antenna on the satellite, warping it and sending the beam to Antarctica, where it focused on the Russian base’s vodka storage shed, causing it to explode. Significant ice was melted also. I’m not sure what my legal standing is in this case, but I have the feeling that public pressure will mount once again to get me to change my birthday to February 31.

Illustration: NASA

Thursday, January 24

Thank you for all the (e)cards and letters!

Thank you! Thank you! I am so grateful for the outpouring of good wishes from all my adoring fans on this, my birthday. It was difficult posting to the blog today, since World Wide Web “Happy birthday Tom Hurley” traffic reached server-farm-smoking intensity, outnumbering spam even and making it hard to get online. Several Internet service providers have pleaded with me to move my birthday to February 31. In olden times, the US Post Office used to dread this day because the volume of my birthday mail surpassed that of Christmas and income tax time combined. After receiving all the cards and letters, my family and I had enough fuel to warm the house for the entire winter. Yes, we burned paper back then. But remember, that was when recycling meant having to get back on your bike to return to the neighborhood grocery because you forgot the turnips. Or was it parsnips? I forget…

I thank these kind folks for the photo above.

It’s been a very busy day

This morning I got up at 6:30 after a couple of hours listening to the distinctive sound of snow falling on the roof. Rain has a steady staccato sound, hail is more insistent, but snow has an uneven thudding sound caused by clumps of it falling from the twigs and branches of the oak tree that overhangs the roof. Plus there’s the general silence that engulfs the space since snow absorbs the usual echoes of rural/mountain/wilderness-ness.

Much time was spent on the computer, reading and digesting a 75-page report from the National Security Space Office regarding the feasibility of space-based solar power. I was asked for my opinion of this project by a nephew, a film producer. He wanted to know what I thought because, as a child living with my family for a brief time, he regarded me as a “grumpy genius.” He is looking to make a film about the idea. He is also aware that I put together a very successful earth-bound solar power system, our only power source here in the boonies.

Then I had to read through and figure out a response to a pending court decision regarding the ending of the use of horses in the wilderness of California (and eventually the entire United States). This is important to me because my source of income is, in large part, horse-related at a vacation retreat in the wilderness of the Sierra. Putting together a defense against the wishes of a frankly biased-against-horse-use judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in California will be difficult.

So that's why I don’t have the usual stupid post for today. Sorry. I’ll return to my rotting mind self before too long. Right now I have to prepare for the world-wide celebration of my birthday tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 23

What were they smoking?

What would you call the cartoon image on the left—a gray-haired woman wearing a crown, ermine cuffs and an ermine wrap with a capital Q on it, and a dopey smile on her face. What could she represent? Certainly not a jewelry firm; crowns are so gauche. Ermine is verboten in our animal-loving fur-hating culture. Her character doesn't tie in with an animated cartoon or comic book. So what could she represent?

Bath Tissue!

Yes, this is the mascot of a major brand of quilted (thus the Q) toilet paper, the same brand as in my previous post. When they picked this figure to adorn their product, what were they smoking? Whatever it was, I would hope at least that it was rolled in their quilted tissue. How could they choose this dippy drawing to represent their brand, especially when there are so many good mascots for other household products. Brawny paper towels got it right with their hunky lumberjack to express the toughness of the product. Mr. Clean's immaculate white outfit reeks of cleanliness. The powdered cleanser, Bon Ami, features a cute little baby chick just emerged from its shell and the punny slogan, "Hasn't scratched yet," setting it apart from its competitors' abrasiveness.

Too bad I wasn't in on the decision. I would have sent the artist back to design a logo showing a coffee farmer stroking the tissue on his donkey.

Tuesday, January 22

A very delicate subject

This isn't an easy one to approach without quickly descending into bad puns and innuendoes and wise cracks, but hey. In our house we use two-ply quilted bath tissue. Only one of the plies is quilted while the other is flat. The quilting itself is a bit odd. As you can see from the photo, the pattern consists of Hearts and Flowers. Is this consistent with the ultimate use of the product? Or are we trying to make nice with something that is less-than-nice?

"Bath tissue." Does anybody call it bath tissue? Every shopping list I've ever espied lists it as TP or SP. On the package is the usual toll-free 800 number and an invitation for the consumer to comment. I wonder if they ever get tired of the usual TP jokes. Imagine having that job: "Hello, welcome to the comment line for [brand inserted here] bath tissue. How can I help you?" How many people actually call with questions or comments about toilet paper? Is this the most deadening job, like the old Maytag repairman's lament that nobody calls? Maybe the company has laid off the last of its comment line workers and simply routes the calls to the executive men's room attendant to save money.

If I should ever be tempted to call, two questions come to mind. One: Why is it quilted? Two (the BIG question): Which side do you, um…use? I probably don't need to call; I can imagine their response: "Are you sure you called the right number? Nobody calls this number. I mean nobody has ever called this number. What could you possibly be asking about [brand inserted here]? Is this a joke? What are you, some kind of prevert? Leave me alone; I got a lotta toilets to scrub and you're just making me work longer for no pay. I don't get overtime and all the suits on this floor got the runs from some bad sushi in the executive dining room and—." At this point I hang up. I don't need to be chewed out by the likes of this grump who obviously doesn't enjoy his line of work as much as I do mine.

Monday, January 21

Truth in Labeling, Part 1

(A follow-up to this article was posted on January 30)

I have been thinking for quite a while about discussing the need for a bit more honesty on package labels. For instance, have you ever gotten a bag of potato chips whose contents are even close to what's pictured on the bag, big handsome examples of the epitome of the chipmaker's craft? Or do you open the bag to find, at the bottom, a dense heap of broken little bits that more closely resemble garden mulch than potatoes? Oddly, the big beautiful chips seem to float to the top of the bag while the mulch settles out on the bottom just above the dust.

The Wheat Thins package shown here is approaching honesty. Observe the outline around the name, "Wheat Thins." See how ragged and uneven it is? A subtle hint of what you might find inside? Look at the cracker that's broken in two. A common sight inside the package for sure, but I doubt you'll find its mate as neatly as is shown. Why do you think they show a broken cracker? Is it so you'll take their serving suggestion and not eat a whole huge cracker like some socially unrefined glutton?

In the interest of science, I tried to break a Wheat Thins cracker that way. After several minutes' effort, I never even got close. I think they either sawed the cracker with a very fine blade or simply succumbed to the efficiency of "breaking" it in Photoshop.

Many questions, few answers. I'll keep working at this. Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 19

Clarence is back for more

Tonight as I was preparing to wash dinner's dishes, I noticed a moth outside the kitchen window. I captured it and tossed it near the plant where Clarence was waiting for some action, having finally digested that last behemoth (no pun intended) I gave him. Whoa! Out he leapt and practically inhaled the moth! I had always seen frogs going through a lot of work swallowing their prey, what with the gulping and the eyes pushing down into their heads to help push the food down and that pawing action by the front feet. But Clarence eats like a dog—grab and bolt and that's it. He turned to me as if to say, "Well?" So I went outside and caught another moth near the porch light, brought it in and Blammo! Gulp! Burp!

I heard recently that roughly 150 species of frogs have simply disappeared in the last 20 years. That's terrible, since amphibians are like canaries in a mine. We could be in deep trouble. So I'm going to do my best to keep ol' Clarence in fine health. Hope I can roust up a wife (or husband in case she's Claire) and introduce them to the part of the fountain that doesn't have any goldfish. Then watch for that glob of goo that will produce another batch of froglets. Maybe they'll make me the godfather to their brood. Not that I need the recognition, but I'll take what I can get, even if it is from a frog.

Thursday, January 17

Hydrant hatred

Pictured here is a despicable piece of plumbing. A fire hydrant that leaks no matter how much you try to shut it off. The valve is closed so hard it will take a herd of oxen pulling on a 6-foot-long pipe wrench to open it. The cap is put on so tight it will take carefully aimed hits with a 12-pound sledge hammer to get it off. By the time I gather and hitch up all the oxen and remember where I put the pipe wrench and hammer, whatever caught fire will probably burn itself out.

The arrows in the picture point to two drips as they fall off the cap chain. Billions of drips have dropped, soaking the ground under the hydrant to the point where I could plant large fish. It's hard to show the rate of drippage, but I can give you an idea—dripdripdripdripdripdripdripdrip.

I walked up to our water tank and shut off the valve so I could work on the hydrant. And guess what? The tank valve leaks! So I can't shut off the water. It's a gate valve, my second-most-hated valve. Come to think of it, I don't like any part of plumbing. Guess I've spent too many years repairing the vile stuff.

It would be nice if we knew where to buy good parts. Plumbing products made in certain countries are really junky; don't buy any of them. As a helpful guide, I have compiled a list of the countries that make the worst plumbing parts.

Monday, January 14

From the Funny Pages…Part 3

Stop the presses! This just in! This item was on the front page of my favorite local paper. It's so reassuring to know that reporters and photographers are out there in the wild, warning us to beware of the seemingly innocent nature of what could be a sinister plot by the enemies of our country to slow the traffic, and therefore the economy, by a tiny perhaps unnoticed bit. The fact that "Additional information from Caltrans was not available" is a red flag to me! Repeated in a random fashion all over the United States, this could over time bring even a mighty nation to its knees. Thanks for the warning, Funny Pages!

Sunday, January 13

Scaredy fish

On the left, this is how the goldfish in the fountain look to me. I wonder—how do I look to them? Hm-m-m. This must be why they wait till I leave before they start to eat.

Saturday, January 12

Clarence hits the big time

What a score! I had been worried about Clarence. The housefly season is pretty much kaput, and he was looking pretty bony. Around 7 o'clock this evening, he was in the windowsill in the kitchen, desperately trying to get at a big moth that was outside the window. Well, being the big hero, I went out and caught the moth and tossed it toward Clarence. He dove into action and downed that sucker in about a millisecond! Here we see him as only a wing is left to be swallowed. The moth was nearly as big as Clarence himself. He can relax for a few days while he digests this gourmet treat, and I can finally get some sleep.

Friday, January 11

Wine? Or boot scrapings?

Parker himself, reviewing the same wine, gave it a 91, finding “a wonderful combination of red and black fruits intermixed with crushed rock, wet stone, smoke, roasted herb, and earth characteristics.…’’

This is from a New York Times article containing a wine review. It also describes what I scraped off my boots after feeding horses in the rain-soaked corral. It sounds like a wine you would serve with meadow muffins. End off with road apples for dessert.

$5 Worth of what?

This appeared today on a page on the site. I was looking at an iPod, and see that if I buy one, I can "Get $5 Worth of Free MP3 Downloads." How can you get five dollars worth of something that's free to start with? Help me here.

Wednesday, January 9

From the Funny Pages…Part 2

This appeared last summer in my favorite twice-weekly local paper. It was in a story about the local sheriff's department raiding a series of pot gardens in the area. The part about 95-degree angles was what got my attention. Those poor cops must have had suction cups, grappling hooks and maybe even Velcro on both hands and feet to climb their way to the garden! Of course once they got to their target they could take a little time out to sample the goods before hauling all that weed down to the incinerator.

Monday, January 7

Broken ankle

Sorry I missed blogging yesterday, but I broke my ankle. Just kidding. Actually I've never broken anything more than a fingernail, and that was when I was too aggressive digging out a hard booger.

We shop at a supermarket in a nearby town, and have been patrons of Raley's since they put in their southernmost store in Oakhurst in 1981. We've gotten to know a lot of the people there, and some have become good friends. One, a checkstand icon, loves to go fishing whenever she can. Sometimes she goes to some pretty challenging places off in the wilds in pursuit of the big ones. A few weeks back, we were told that she had broken her ankle. In three places! Wow, that's serious. As I thought about it later, I wondered—If I were to go to a place and break my ankle, why would I go to two more places and break my ankle again…and again.…

That's a little too masochistic don't you think?

Saturday, January 5

Buy Apple

The stock market is in decline, and that's good for people who want to make some money on a sure thing. Apple Inc., the company that makes iPods and computers and cell phones has fallen from almost $200 to around $180 per share over the past week. I'm going to see if it goes any lower, then buy a bunch more shares. Why is the stock falling? Because the government released its jobless figures and unemployment is now 5%. Reports like that scare the living daylights out of traders, the people who buy and sell stocks on very short cycles. As far as I know, Apple doesn't depend on unemployed people to keep up their sales momentum.

Buy-and-hold stockholders like me dive in and scoop up the scraps left on the floors of the stock exchanges. I have never sold a share of Apple since buying in at $7.50 a share several years back. When something ends up worth 25 times what you paid for it, who would? Traders who don't make a profit in a week, that's who. Thanks, traders. Have another Rolaids and a super-sized double-shot espresso! On me! (Just kidding.)

Friday, January 4

Clarence returns!

After being missing for at least a couple of weeks, our kitchen frog, Clarence showed up. The weather today is frightfully windy and the rain is coming down like there's no tomorrow. It must have made him think it would be better to return to his post in our kitchen.

I'm afraid there's nothing here to eat, though. The housefly season seems to be over for awhile. Hope he finds something to fill his tummy. Here he's attracted to the platypus on my coffee mug and decides to explore a little.

People ask how I know his name is Clarence. For that matter is he a he or a she? Simple—if he's a she, her name is Claire.

Thursday, January 3

English from Taiwan

This is the foot-operated control for a sewing machine made in Taiwan. They're getting better at doing English writing good now, but older days not for writing be very good.

Wednesday, January 2

I’m dropping out of the presidential race

As much as this comes as a disappointment to my many supporters, I must declare my run for the presidency to be ended. It was a difficult decision: balancing the importance of two conflicting goals—saving the republic versus feeding the cat, the dog, the fish, and the horses. In America's rich history, many men have risen to the office of the presidency and guided the nation through challenges to its sovereignty and influence. I was willing to make the sacrifice to follow in their footsteps, but there were the animals I care for to consider.

My unique approach to feeding the goldfish, for example, made me aware of their needs which only I truly understood. Some would say, "But Tom, your country needs you to lead it out of war. To revitalize the economy. To bring back the hope of the American dream in the eyes of the world." Agreed, but how many people understand the needs of five goldfish who were going to be sold as food for turtles? I rescued these helpless souls from the big tank at the feed store, paying only 20 cents each. Imagine! A precious life put on the block for another's indulgence! Over time I have achieved oneness with their needs. I dole out their food in what might seem to the uninitiated to be a random pattern, sometimes twice in the morning and four times in the afternoon. Sometimes once in the morning and only three times in the afternoon. I take the temperature of the water they live in to determine if their digestive systems can accommodate an increase in the amount of food I give them. How can I pass on this close personal empathy to another person?

As for the dog, the cat, and the horses, even an idiot can keep them going.

Guess I must be a fish guy. Oh well, somebody else can be president. Thanks for your support though. May you have many happy goldfish yourselves.

Hay day

We had to go to town for a load of hay for the 32 hungry beasties that we feed every day. The local feed stores here in the foothills didn't have anything but alfalfa. Our horses love alfalfa, but it used to kill at least one of them every year when we fed only alfalfa to them; they colic (a twisted gut). Some people describe alfalfa as a "hot" feed. When horses come off a diet of meadow grass, alfalfa is just too rich for them.

So we drove down the hill to Sanger where they always have a good selection of oat hay, two kinds of grass hay, and alfalfa. We've been feeding grass hay, 200 bales worth so far since October, but we decided to switch to oat so we can get some seeds in the ground ready for a series of big rainstorms coming Thursday night. Might as well have something to show for our money besides fat horses.

Tuesday, January 1

I’ll drink to that

This being the first day of the new year, here's something for you to make a resolution about. I quit so many years ago, I think smokes were selling for a dime a pack. Maybe a dollar…I forget. Anyway, I'm not making any resolutions for the new year. Maybe I'll be nicer to the cat, but then he only likes me because I'm the one who feeds him. As for the dog, the one who needs a pill every day to strengthen her bladder sphincter so she doesn't pee all over the place, who needs another pill every other day for her adrenal glands, who needs an injection every 25 days for her Addison's disease, and finally some ivermectin for heart worms once a month, well, good luck and be happy that you're darn close to 20 this year. Another year and you'll be able to have a drink. But not in this house—I'm already spending half my life keeping yours going.